Earlier this year, frozen beverages was everywhere, especially with some former unlikely locations. A bit later, espresso “martini”, clinging to the moniker, mainly due to familiar glass, made a curious resurrection.
The frozen explosion made sense: Many restaurants and bars continued to expand outdoors on their way to another hot pandemic summer. The espresso martini revival was a little more enigmatic, and a few bartenders we’ve talked to for this and other stories have wondered if their latest ubiquitous is due to irony or the like. 2018’s Aperol Spritz blitz.
Now we’re starting to see dedicated martini menus – overviews of cocktails with varying amounts of gin, vermouth and fine, sometimes vodka – in some of the 2021s best new restaurants. The most frequent explanation we’ve heard? These new restaurants and bars, no matter how varied their design and geography are, seem to speak martinis to their operators.
Sidney’s Five opened in May with a list nine martinis deep, depending on how you count. Its bar menu has five, including a standard, a vespers and a 2: 1, plus a flight of three teeny martinis and a breakfast version more at brunch.
“It’s something that tells me, Do not underestimate me; I’m small, but I have a stroke and I’m here to have fun, ”Says Culinary Director Edie Ugot. Together with business partners Kai Woo, David Lowenstein and Walker Chambliss, Ugot began conceptualizing Sidney’s Five as a passion project. Martinis was part of the equation from the start, partly inspired by the Grand Central Oyster Bar, seafood trips to New Orleans, the desire to capture a kind of timeless New York essence, and Sidney’s Five space.
“We also get a retro vibe in the restaurant, and you know a martini is an American classic,” Chambliss says. “It is considered a standard for cocktails worldwide.”
“When we knew the martinis would become a fixture, we were like, ok, what kind of food goes really well with martinis, and the classic thing that comes to mind is of course seafood, so it goes hand in hand, “Ugot says. “We were like, ok, perfect, we can incorporate our grilled oysters with it. And we wanted more than one taste. The martinis are the same way. ”
In addition to Ugot’s trio of garlic, nori mayo and chili butter grilled oysters, the menu features fish and chips, mussels, burgers and a popular sweet and savory andouille sausage, all developed with a focus on fun, divisible indulgence. There is even free popcorn at happy hour.
“That’s really our theme here,” says Ugot. “A little naughty, a little decadent, but also a little playful.”
Sidney’s Five and its contemporaries also seem to be creating new martini fans for every happy hour that passes. Chambliss (who prefers to touch, not shake, martinis so as not to ruin the spirits) say their choices help people learn more about what they like via vermouth conditions and subtle decorative variations.
“A big part of what our menu is is to make it be, hey, it’s all martinis. And it’s ok to not necessarily know about them. But I’m here to offer advice and guidance so you can find something you really like. ”
Midtbyens Daintree is another new place with a dedicated martini menu that goes so far as to divide its drinks into “martinis” (five of them) and “everything else”. Beverage Director Tristan Brunel says his team’s process was also informed by its space: a rooftop terrace with a portrait of the Empire State Building in an area highly concentrated with offices.
“You think of big, tall buildings; you think of tall, dramatic martini glasses to compliment the view. In the beginning, it was like, what do we not see people doing, ”says Brunel, noting the cyclical nature of drinking trends. “And for us, we were like no one we know or really at the time, back in April / May, focused on [martinis]. ”
“We try to give them a bit of a moment,” he says. “The other thing we want to be is a little instructive.”
For Brunel, it requires a short interrogation that will hopefully help a guest’s preference. He calls it a pick your own adventure.
“Some people want it wet, extra dirty, slightly dirty, so if you start thinking about the combinations in that shape and embellishment, it starts to become an exponential number as you continue,” Brunel says.
“At the end of the day, we want to open up opportunities for people. Maybe we’ll talk someone into a 50/50, and the next thing you know, they’re drinking a vespers they’ve never had before, and they’re going to experience something different. ”
One of the first places we noticed that this year’s martini focus was on Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn shortly after it opened in April last year. This detail was easy to miss at the time, considering how many details there are in the restaurant. (Revived by Brooklyn Culinary Heroes chef / partner Sohui Kim and partners St. John Frizell and Ben Schneider, it’s the kind of place that’s likely to appear on a lot of the best restaurants in the 2021 list.) But there they are, seven martinier leads cocktail list, the first drinks you see.
“Our philosophy has always been to jointly honor the space and the best way we could do that was by applying our experience and our philosophies to food systems and beverage systems,” says head chef Adam Shepard.
“The direction of the menus for Sohui and myself and of course the drinks program for St. John, it evolved at the same time because of the story of Gage and Tollner and the way Gage and Tollner have always presented themselves. ”
It all almost makes it sound like it was easy to honor G & T’s 125-year history, but even perfecting the formula for one of the seven martinis in a way that really spoke to the restaurant’s past and present was an investigation.
“When these cocktails were contacted by St. John, he looked at everything. He tried the perfect martini with 30, 40 different gins. In an attempt not to find out what gin is all about, but to find out the correct marriage between the correct gin and the correct vermouth for sweet and dry and so on, ”says Shepard. “The point of this particular endeavor is not to find out how many different cocktails I can make with all these different gin and vermouth combinations, it’s about how I find the soul I’m looking for in my perfect martini.”
While Gage & Tollber’s food and beverage teams work together, they all still bring their own experience and interpretation of how best to pay homage to the historic space and revive it today, Shepherd says. In other words, it does not explicitly match, but it does walks.
In particular, the chef recommends a dirty martini and gougères, a new menu addition made with roquefort and Castelvetrano olives, a perfect martini with roast pork with sour cherry mustarda and a square martini with oyster Rockefeller. “A little bit of absinthe comes with Rockefeller, who has a little bit of absinthe,” he says. “ISLANDlife and olives, absinthe and absinthe, that kind of are just natural bridges, built from the drink to the food. ”
The restaurant with this season’s latest dedicated martini menu has not even opened yet. Jack & Charlie are no. 118 opens in a landmark building in the West Village in coming days. Jack & Charlie’s, a club-style dinner, will offer five martinis to start, including Hot Charlie, a spicy martini with bianco vermouth and chili. They will all be served in Nick & Nora glasses along with sidecars.
“You really have to see the space to get a real feel for it, but space like this is really not a dime a dozen in New York City, ”says general manager Craig Hutson.
“It pushes a little bit to the era where people would go and drink a martini in a bar or drink a martini before dinner, and it was really here we got the inspiration for it,” he says. “The room really pulled the story, and then we felt we had to pay tribute to the fact that the room has been a restaurant for so long. The look and feel of it really gave itself a real focus on proper martini presentations. ”
Each of these restaurants and bars are lovely in their own way (plus the supposed beauty we will give Jack & Charlie’s No. 118 while we await a glimpse), and the metaphorical phonetic architecture similarly follows differently. 1960s cocktail-hour fun at Sidney’s Five and they suspended over the city’s heartbeat on the roof at Daintree and the magnificent, ornate, old New York style at Gage & Tollner and Jack and Charlie’s throwback dinner club pursuits could all demand martinis and clearly have. But there are also a few loose ties that can tie it all together.
Restaurants and bars also deal with supply chain problems and rising prices, making long-life ingredients more attractive than relying on expensive fresh juices and homemade syrups. An urge to return to the classics also came a few times, and thus a desire to serve the guests in a meaningful way without having to figuratively or in some cocktail cases literally set something on fire. As much as it traces that these spaces call for martinis, they also ask to stay in the company. A blend of gin, vermouth and its variations seems to be an appropriate plan whoever prepares it.
“I just created this menu in a vacuum, ”says Chambliss. “I’m curious if it’s just an unconscious trend that we’re all striving for.”